About a dozen miniature satellites, about the size of Rubik’s Cubes, are circling the Earth taking simple measurements on, for example, Earth’s atomosphere. The numbers of this tiny cohort of cube satellites or CubeSats may swell if a key limitation—lack of on-board propulsion systems—is resolved.

CubeSats may multipy with a little MIT help. Graphic: Christine Daniloff

CubeSats may multiply with a little MIT help. Graphic: Christine Daniloff

Paulo Lozano SM ’93, PhD ’03 hopes to do just that. Lozano, the H.N. Slater Assistant Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, is designing a tiny propulsion system that could allow the economy-sized satellites to travel great distances and take on tasks such as searching for planets outside this solar system.

His technology is a leap ahead of existing chemical propulsion systems that require substantial fuel supplies. He is building a system that relies on an electric system that can produce a more efficient thrust and be small enough to fit the tiny satellite. The energy would come from a technology based on the process of extracting and accelerating charged ions. He plans to complete a prototype of the system, about the size of a computer chip, by summer.

Learn how the technology works in an MIT News Office article.